Trending Topics: Getting NHL Awards voting right matters

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NHL Awards voters showed a decided lack of attention to detail. (Getty)
NHL Awards voters showed a decided lack of attention to detail. (Getty)

It was hard to quibble too much with the awards voting from the PHWA this year.

You could see why Taylor Hall won even if you preferred Nathan MacKinnon. You didn’t need to make a big logic leap to understand the argument for Victor Hedman over, say, PK Subban.

And y’know what? You can’t really go off on that baffling third-place Selke vote for Colton Sissons. It’s hard to sit there and get mad that someone voted for Kris Russell for the Lady Byng, because it’s an ultimately inconsequential vote and, frankly, award.

We all make mistakes but those are player evaluation choices and even if you’re wrong, well, you get to be wrong. People get to call you out for it, also, but that’s besides the point.

The voting this year was more consequential than before, though, because it was the first time the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association would not only be telling fans the vote totals, but also revealing how every voter filled out their ballots all the way down the line.

This was something a lot of people in the Old Guard of the PHWA was against. They argued that it opened writers up to unfair criticism, both from fans on social networks and (perhaps) the coaches and players they dealt with every day. Something along the lines of, if a Bruins writer didn’t put Charlie McAvoy down as rookie of the year, he or she might get pulled aside and quizzed about it. No one wants to get yelled at, right?

The actual problem those writers likely had with de-anonymizing their ballots was that it would quickly reveal which writers made some deeply dumb-assed votes. More specifically, because when you have a large enough bloc of voters — 168 this season, says the PHWA — dumb votes and slip-ups are inevitable, and why should writers be put on blast for making an innocent mistake?

This year, one writer filed his ballot late, so his votes didn’t count for anything. A different one submitted an ineligible vote for a specific award. Another 12 writers (including the one who filed the ineligible award ballot) submitted ineligible ballots for their All-Star team selections. Four more (with one overlap from the previous group) filed ineligible All-Rookie team ballots.

There was some question as to what “ineligible” means here, but I’ve been told it’s basically “incomplete.” They may have submitted four names when they were supposed to submit five, or something along those lines. You can probably chalk that up as an honest mistake, and again, it’s tough to get too mad about it.

What people did get mad at, however, was the league’s All-Star teams, because voters showed a decided lack of attention to detail. One writer submitted his ballot for Taylor Hall as the league’s MVP, but also chose Hall to be the No. 1 left wing (fair!) and No. 1 center in the league. You will note that Hall is not a center, has never been a center, and it’s fair to assume he never will be a center.

When the totals were first announced, before the full ballots were published, people guffawed. It was lockout-season Ovechkin — who made league All-Star teams as both a right wing and left wing despite a highly publicized move from the latter position to the former — all over again! And it wasn’t just Hall: multiple voters put Claude Giroux outside his actual position this season, which again, was a heavily covered move to the left wing.

One could certainly be forgiven for not remembering that Giroux skated to the left of Sean Couturier because he spent so long as a center. One could not be forgiven for thinking, as two broadcasters invited to vote by the PHWA inexplicably did, that Giroux spent any time this season as a right wing.

Even leaving aside the argument that if guys win or don’t-win awards based on these votes, that can end up earning or costing them a lot of money, this stuff matters. The people in the PHWA who take themselves too seriously always frame the capital-I Importance of their work as something like, “We’re the conduit through which fans get all the vital information they want about their favorite teams.” And that’s true, because you don’t want all that info coming direct from the teams themselves.

But with that job comes the responsibility of, like, knowing that the guy you think was the league MVP didn’t play two positions. And being able to demonstrate that. And maybe putting the time in to make sure, again, you didn’t just make a mistake.

After the voting totals came out, but before the whodunnit was revealed, I half-joked that whoever said Hall was a center should turn in their PHWA badge. Then it…. maybe happened?

The problem with this response from Shoalts, who really ought to know better, is that he makes himself the victim. He screwed up and he can own it without saying there’s some sort of witch hunt and calling for everyone else whose ballot got screwed up to also resign from the PHWA.

This is what teenagers do: Get caught doing something wrong and scream something dramatic before slamming their bedroom doors closed and turning on some loud music. You can admit fault without also theatrically prostrating yourself.

All fans want is for voters, whose job is ostensibly just to watch a lot of hockey all season and be able to talk about it intelligently, to take the sport as seriously as they do. Fans can be over-demanding when it comes to specifics about Their Team — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said I watched, say, 15 Penguins games this season, but they watched 65 so clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about when I say they have problems on their fourth line — but if you’re a PHWA voter and you think a guy is the season’s MVP, it’s kinda on you to make sure you’re nailing down the finer points, like what position he plays.

Not to pick on Shoalts too much here, but it really is illustrative of the problem.

Again, I’m not saying it’s impossible to make innocent mistakes. Every writer in every sport has screwed up a take here and there and I don’t think anyone should face the guillotine for it. Asked to explain the mistake? Sure. Him saying it was a “brain fart” should have been plenty for people.

And look, the PHWA could probably also go back to its members when they fill out a ballot wrong and say, “Yeah, look, you said Claude Giroux is a right. What’s up with that?” to these people. But that’s probably time-consuming and also, not as much fun for the fans.

So when you’re filling out awards ballots — especially when you know your name is being attached to them — you should really be double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking that you didn’t accidentally put William Karlsson on your Norris ballot or something.

It’s like I always say: If you don’t want people to say your takes are bad, don’t do bad takes. Same goes for awards voting, especially this year, when you knew your ballot is going to be published for the meanest of the mean jerks on Twitter to roast you for.

Pretty simple. Or, you would have thought so anyway.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.

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